The Malta Independent 13 November 2019, Wednesday

Tipping point

Rachel Borg Saturday, 15 June 2019, 07:15 Last update: about 6 months ago

Now that something can be seen and touched, the collapse of buildings and walls, with near fatal accidents to real persons, some reaction from the government has finally ensued. For what it is worth, since nobody ever got satisfaction from the Building Regulations Office, the Prime Minister has suspended demolition and excavation works and is set to increase fines.

Let us be clear, though, from the 15 June excavation and demolition works are meant to be suspended anyway in tourist areas. Which area is not a tourist area these days? If not for the location of actual hotels, there could be AirBnb, guests in private houses (as we have seen from the recent tourist arrival/nights statistics) or they could be visiting a place of interest, a pre-historic temple or the neighbouring islands or seeking the beaches of the north.

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The crises of total disregard, and complete lack of accountability, not just by the building industry itself, but by the Planning Authority who has fostered a superiority complex amongst the contractors, builders and developers, whoever they may be, has now exceeded safety levels by a large measure. When I had complained about some works taking place beside by property, I was told to tell Joseph Muscat, not them. Also, it is common now for them to reply to your complaint by telling you to get out, to sell. We are being driven out of our homes. But if that were a solution, one might consider it. The thing is wherever you go, the same thing is happening. Perhaps they mean we should leave the country?

If there was some real sensitivity, good planning, social sustainable impact assessments and proper and serious evaluation of the site with a veto from the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA), people might be better inclined towards responsible change and projects. Unfortunately, though, the greed is now out of control from all those involved.

But let us be clear, the collapse of a wall or a building is only one consequence. Because it is visual, a credible threat, then the government must be seen to be taking control back. However, there are many other detrimental effects that are taking place, due to the construction industry and other sources. Reliable reports have given us shocking figures on the amount of asthma amongst Maltese children and the elderly. Like a fall out from Chernobyl, people are getting sick or dying but no real figures are attributed to the true cause of pollution. Another element which we cannot afford to ignore is noise pollution, which can literally drive people mad. This noise pollution is not just from the demolition, excavation, grinding and cutting and the trucks passing by our front door, it is also from the type of developments that have been allowed to take place in residential areas, or within

proximity of residents. Take the hotels, the restaurants and venues all with open air entertainment, weddings and special events, that keep loud music blaring away all through the weekend and even weekdays in Summer. Such places should not be allowed to operate in this way, disturbing the peace. The numerous beach clubs have become de facto discotheques all day and all night long.

But there is no zoning anymore. The only criteria is that the places have a permit, to be built and to operate any way they like.

The same goes for hunting.

The Prime Minister is under the impression that it can go on without law enforcement because that suits him for votes. He may think that there is nothing visually negative, in seeing a dead protected bird. If the bird is shot and taken away, then there is even less to be seen, so the abuse goes on.

How infantile, how arrogant of a PM to treat serious social issues in this way. Does he think we are all the same in our concerns? That as long as people are thought to be benefitting from a permissive society, then he does not need to regulate and make sure that people and nature are protected from danger and be democratic?

There is danger at the LNG power station which was pointed out to him but it was ignored. There is danger in the way demolition is taking place all around us. There is a serious price to pay for the cutting down of trees, for the corruption and take- over of institutions, for the lack of accountability, for mis-leading the population.

When it comes to the foreign workers, it is not a matter of them working here, legally or not, so much as it is a matter that, for example, foreign workers go to work on a construction site on a public holiday or till late a night. Why should such people, given a job here, be allowed to abuse the peace and break the law? We, the neighbours, have to put up with noise even on a day when no work is meant to take place because for some, Sunday, is not a day of rest and a public holiday has no meaning. Would they be allowed to do that in their country? For such reasons, one is sometimes driven to say, “go back to your own country”. Yes, the owners will tell you that they have a permit to allow the work to continue on Sunday, so will stopping excavation stop the rot?

Does it simply have to be something that can turn against the government to merit action? What about the hurt that is caused to so many people, by the ignorant removal of the candles and flowers from the Great Siege Memorial for Daphne Caruana Galizia? That is the work of government against its citizens for the sake of one or two persons who do not enjoy being reminded of the tragic death of a journalist. Is a lady who managed to escape death from a falling building any more deserving than a journalist who was killed for doing her job?

But it appears, that the government picks and choses along political lines.

The same goes for the Councils. How long must they keep on begging for the power and system that will allow them to do their job? By what right has the government deprived the people of their councils to try and prevent these accidents and incidents? Let us also not forget the many traffic accidents some of which may be have been prevented if the council had more power to regulate traffic and decide if a permit to build a balcony on a busy road is sensible.

Or if the music can be played at high volume in the afternoon and night? Will the PM intervene now that Malta councils are red practically over the whole island or is he now comfortable that the line will be towed?

The fact that councils and the public have not been asked to collaborate into reporting any abuse – no telephone number was given out – and that no press conference was called to highlight the urgency and seriousness of the problem and the action to be taken, leads us to conclude that come Summer break, it will be only the privileged few who can sit back and enjoy it.

Meantime, the caravans that line up the coast road and public beaches are just another form of building that goes unchecked.

 

Rachel Borg is an independent columnist based in the tourism industry
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